Interview: Jason Zeldes Talks ROMEO IS BLEEDING (A Kickstarter Project)
With so many Kickstarter projects starting every minute, it’s hard to cut through the clutter to find projects truly worth rooting for. The inspiring story of the RAW Talent group and the adversity they’re overcoming every day is one such project. Just watch the kickstarter trailer for a better idea of the scope of their work:
I got the chance to talk with the director of the film, Jason Zeldes, a classmate of mine while at USC. He’s been hard at work bringing this project to light and was happy to discuss it and its Kickstarter campaign with me. Keep reading for the whole interview.
1. What was your inspiration for this documentary?
To me, the story is incredible, and that’s the first inspiration. The African American community in Richmond, CA has been divided by a turf war for years, and the violence associated with the conflict defines life for many of its citizens. Due to a lack of positive outlets, the youth are often drawn into the conflict, perpetuating a cycle of violence. In the midst of all of this, the students of RAW Talent, a creative writing group, are overcoming the negative influences surrounding them and channeling their experiences into art.
This year RAW Talent is attempting their first ever play, Te’s Harmony, a modern re-telling of Romeo and Juliet set in Richmond. The Shakespearean masterpiece has been reworked into spoken word poetry and Richmond vernacular, creating an allegory for the conditions haunting Richmond and its youngest citizens. RAW Talent students see their own story reflected within this tragedy, and dare to believe in a different ending.
The amount of courage it takes to overcome the trauma they’ve endured is remarkable. Their passion for poetry, and the ultimate success of their play, keeps me motivated on a daily basis to keep pushing my project forward so I can honor them with a film.
2. How did everyone involved come together to get this project off the ground?
This project has been coming together really organically. It began with a conversation with my cousin Molly at a family gathering over the summer. She’s the director of RAW Talent, and has built it from scratch over the past five years. When I heard the play was happening in February, I knew I had to start immediately if I was going to be able to get everything in order in time to document in properly. So a few weeks later I found myself in Richmond conducting interviews with the students of RAW Talent, and it was obvious that the story was just as good as advertised.
From there I was able to use the story to rally support. I’ve had tremendous support from a number of fellow filmmakers who have allowed me to borrow their equipment, and a lot of supportive and talented friends have donated their time in order for me to get through the first several shoots on a shoestring budget. Once the Kickstarter funding comes in we’ll be able to up our game.
3. Why did you choose Kickstarter over other funding options like IndieGoGo or a more traditional route?
I’ve been working in the documentary world for a while and I’ve seen Kickstarter work for several films. The website has good brand recognition, so all I have to say is, “I’m doing a Kickstarter!” and people understand that I’m in the midst of a do-or-die fundraising effort. It’s also a good way to just create awareness and get exposure for your film while also raising funds.
With that being said Kickstarter will not be our sole source of funding. Our Kickstarter funds should get us through principal photography, but for finishing funds we’re going the more traditional routes. For example we’re applying for grants and developing relationships with producers in order to get our project through post-production.
4. What are your (and your team’s) plans if you don’t hit the fundraising goal?
Not hitting the goal would be a blow, but not insurmountable. We would contact those that pledged money towards the film and encourage them to donate anyhow. And, like I said, we’re trying to secure funds from other avenues as well, so not reaching the goal wouldn’t leave us dead in the water. But it would really limit my vision for what’s possible with this film. It would turn from a cinematic take on the story to a very guerrilla approach, namely me sitting in the corner of the RAW Talent portable with a camera for the next few months, but I still think that could make for a great film!
5. What’s the plan if you do hit your fundraising goal? Will it go on the festival circuits, look for a distributor, or put online for free, etc.?
As soon as we hit our goal the production will kick into high gear. We’ve already got a team waiting in the wings, and more importantly, the funds would allow us to temporarily relocate to the Bay Area to be closer to our story.
The long-term goals for this project include taking it the festival route in the hopes of finding distribution. We really believe we’ve got an important story on our hands with wide ranging themes, from the plight of inner-city America to the importance of arts education. At the end of the day we want this film to be seen by as many people as possible, but we’d like to go through the more traditional routes of distribution if possible. If not, we’ll be taking it to the people every way we know how.
6. If you could tell aspiring filmmakers one piece of advice, what would it be?
When you find a story that speaks to you, chase it with everything you’ve got. My biggest fear would be getting to the end of this project and wishing I had invested more, whether that be time or resources. So when you find the story that speaks to you, gather advice from those that have gone before you, make a plan, and GO! Challenges will arise, things will get scary at times, but you’ve got to keep creating, because we’re filmmakers and that is what we’re compelled to do.
7. Do you have another project lined up after Romeo is Bleeding? What’s next for you?
I’ve been making a living as a documentary editor for the past several years, and there are a few projects I’m looking forward to editing after “Romeo Is Bleeding” is in the can. As far as my next directing job is concerned, I have to wait until a story strikes me in the same manner as “Romeo Is Bleeding”, because this is a hard job to do if you’re not inspired on a daily basis! But I would like to encourage any readers with an incredible story to tell to reach out to me! I’m always available to listen to a good story.
You can help this incredible project get off the ground, just donate today: